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Cat Behavior
4Paws receives many calls and emails from distressed owners looking for their lost cats. Volunteers try to return most of these calls, telling them of successful techniques that members have used to find lost cats. The following is an amalgamation of these methods and what you should know and do if your cat gets lost:
  1. Initially, your kitty will likely be disorientated and fearful, especially if it is unused to being outside. Calling the catís name may or may not elicit a response. It doesnít mean that the cat is not there.
  2. Cats usually do not wander far. Concentrate your search close to your home.
  3. Look for areas near your property where cats are likely to hang out. Is there an empty lot across the street with trees and bushes that a cat would love to hide in? (Cats really like green areas with small shrubs.) Is there a storm drain system close by? (Cats frequently travel via storm drains.) Is there a trash dumpster with food available in the area? (Your kitty will be desperately looking for food.)  Does your neighbor have a garden shed? (Cats love sheds - don't forget to look under them, too)
  4. Observe these places at night when cats are more likely to be out. Do you see other cats or raccoons in your neighborhood late at night? If you see them, quietly follow them and observe their territory. Feral cats and raccoons frequent the same locations where your kitty will likely be. If you think that there are no feral cats or raccoons in your neighborhood, you just havenít been looking during the still of night. They are around and can give you valuable clues to your catís movements.
  5. Place LOTS of smelly canned food near your house and around the locations you identified as potential cat hang outs, especially just before dusk (tuna in OIL is the best). The importance of this step cannot be emphasized enough. Domestic cats are unequipped to survive in the wild, so it is imperative that food be provided. Your cat will stay in the area as long as there is enough food to eat. Initially, you may not see your cat, but he will be there. Placing the food out at dusk is best since fearful cats are more comfortable in the dark and consequently, more likely to come out to eat. Try to place the food in quiet secluded areas where you can observe activity from a safe distance. If possible, buy plastic storage boxes and some bricks to weigh them down. When tipped on their side, they make excellent feeding stations that protect the food from rain.
  6. After you place the food, call your catís name. Try to get him to associate you with food appearing. After a few days, he may remember you or get less fearful and come to your call.
  7. After a couple of hours, check the areas where you have placed food. If the food has disappeared, put more food out and again observe the area from a distance. Find out who is eating. See if it is your kitty. If it is other animals, especially cats or raccoons, this is GREAT. Just keep feeding them and maybe your cat will come out. Be sure to put enough food out so that your cat will get something to eat even after everyone else has eaten.
  8. Sprinkle your catís used litter around your property. Put their bed out and your worn clothes. Cats are extremely sensitive to scents and will stay near familiar odors.
  9. If it is cold, you must provide shelter. After food, it is the second thing that cats must have to survive. Some owners have left their garage door slightly open. You can also try placing their favorite food and litter box in the garage. Place bedding in areas that will remain dry during rain or snow.
  10. Post signs with your catís picture in your neighborhood. Find out if there have been any sightings of your cat and place food in that area.
  11. If you see your kitty and he wonít come to you, you may need to borrow a trap. Traps are available from your local shelter. For information on how to trap, see One owner knew her timid cat was eating in the garage, so she set the trap there and got him in Ĺ hour!
  12. Call the shelter and provide a picture of your cat. Also provide the information to rescue groups in the area. You may have to visit the shelter to make certain that then still have information on your cat.  Better still, microchip your cat to make finding your cat at a shelter easier.
  13. Look on the Internet for additional websites offering more suggestions for finding lost cats.
  14. Let your vet's office know your cat is missing and email them photos and a description.
  15. If you find a lost pet please be sure to file a lost report with the Fairfax County Animal Shelter. It is easier to do this online rather than call (or you may go in person) The web site is: Please also use that link if you find a lost animal. Virginia Law requires individuals to report a found pet with the shelter within 48 hours. The shelter also has a new software management system to track animals. Found animals can be viewed at Click on "view lost pets" on the left, the list will show up on the right. This site replaces the old search engine.
  16. Finally, DONíT GIVE UP. Lost cats have been found weeks after they disappeared. Just be patient and keep feeding and observing.